Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adulthood Studies: how do you buy pants?

I've decided I don't have a problem with leggings, or even leggings-as-pants (despite having once received 15 minutes of fame for complaining about the style). No, my problem is with the legging-ification of all women's pants, and British readers, I mean "pants" in the American sense. They are now all stretch pants. Jeans, yes, but other styles as well. I checked, and my corduroys are stretch. They are not legging-ish at all, and yet, 2% stretch. Because these corduroys are on the ancient side (but not that ancient - they're from the post-spandex era), the spandex bit has ceased to function, making them baggy in precisely the most unflattering way possible.

I understand why this is meant to be a good thing - women's clothes are expected to fit just so, yet human beings' weight/shape tends to fluctuate. And the stretch-jeans will, at least when new, fit perfectly. But... I don't want to wear leggings all the time. Or if I'm going to do that, I might as well throw in the proverbial towel and get a really nice pair at the Lululemon in town, and wear those to all occasions, formal and informal. Leggings that aren't pretending to be regular pants, these I respect. But I want some regular pants that wouldn't inspire theoretical Daily Mail reporters to write that I'm flaunting my curves. I don't want to hide my form, I just want normal pants, like men get to wear, and like women got to wear until polyester-and-spandex had to be woven into absolutely everything. And this did once exist! I can't find a full-length image, but the ones Teri Hatcher wears on "Seinfeld" - very flattering, not "mom jeans," but definitively pre-jeggings. (Wears? Wore. I might be stuck in what was apparently 1993. 20 years ago. Yikes.)

And yes, I've tried the men's department. Despite being short, there are lots of men's jeans in my size - something to do with women having longer legs, and perhaps with waist sizes for men being less vanity-based than for women (and also: the lack of stretch). And... actual men's jeans are not like "boyfriend" jeans for women, but designed to flaunt - or at least comfortably contain - that which cisgender women haven't got. If you are such a woman and you've had luck with men's jeans, more power to you (and do tell me where), but the one's I've run across might ostensibly fit, but I wouldn't want to leave the house like that.

This quest, this eternal quest, has led to some possibilities. A.P.C. proved useless, but whatever these are, I tried them on in a store in Philadelphia, and the very moment I cease to be horrified by $112 jeans with $9.50 shipping, maybe? (Must I, god forbid, drive to Philadelphia? On the highway? And parallel park when I get there? Avoiding this is worth $9.50, right?) These (via) sure look spectacular, but are they, and if so, at $225, would I even want to know? For the most part, though, the search leads either to mom-jeans (which I did order last year, and which are now a perfectly adequate pair of cutoffs) - and these days even those mostly seem to have stretch - or to some kind of patriotic cult of denim. These jeans will not only be Made in the U.S.A. (and all-cotton jeans seem to be, as a rule) but compatible with "concealed carry," which, no thanks.


Flavia said...

Two thoughts:

1) many suit-type pants, especially if they're lined, don't have stretch fibers.

2) chinos? I'm pretty sure all the chinos/khakis I've bought at J. Crew--including as recently as last year--have been 100% cotton.

In general, J. Crew is pretty good with the natural fibers. All the suits I've ever bought there are 100% wool. Brooks Brothers is also good, though their clothing is more square (and quite a bit more expensive).

But avoid Ann Taylor. Most everything there--unless it's tweedy or heavier-weight--has spandex these days.

Moebius Stripper said...

I refuse to buy pants that don't satisfy the following criteria:

* waist and inseam are both labelled. "30-32" means "this pair of pants has a decent chance of fitting me". "Size 8" means nothing whatsoever, and I refuse to take seven pairs of jeans into a change room each time to see how a particular brand defines the single number on the label.

* waist of pants sits at my actual waist, not four inches lower.

* they contain pockets that will fit my wallet and keys.

* my circulation is not cut off when I sit down in those pants, which rules out the overly legging-y jeans.

Men are confused when I tell them these conditions, because [above] describes every single pair of men's pants that has ever been made ever since people stopped being apes. But the only place I've found that makes such women's pants is Mark's Work Wearhouse, from which I now buy all of my pants, and which, alas, apparently does not exist in the US. Even still, pants shopping is enough of an ordeal that I am afraid of gaining 5 lbs, not for reasons of vanity, but because I don't want to have to buy a bunch of new pants.

Phoebe said...


Thanks! The three stores you mention all have branches in town - and not even at the strip malls, but right here. Promising! (Although yes, a trip to Ann Taylor has already proven disappointing.)

I hadn't thought of suit pants. These would look odd with my other clothing, or maybe would be an improvement? It's a possibility! Chinos... the pair I have from the Gap do have stretch, I think. All the casual pants I've run across seem to, but there may be more out there. What I keep finding, though, is that even styles that don't look like they would possibly contain stretch (i.e. retro looks, or menswear-inspired) increasingly do.


Thanks to you as well!

I'm surprised, though, that you say the leggings-ish ones cut off your circulation. This has always seemed to me to be one of the reasons stretch caught on - all pants are now comfortable, none of that digging when you sit down. But... as you say, with the exception of the really skinny jeans, which do something odd at the calves, making it difficult to remove them in the fitting room.

And, I too tend to rely on measurements, but they don't seem much better than sizes. It's abundantly clear that my waist size in women's-jeans-universe is at least a couple of inches smaller than my actual waist size... except when it's not. I still have to take a bunch of pairs of the same style to try.

Moebius Stripper said...

Oh, I'm probably an outlier when it comes to tight pants (and tight clothing in general) and comfort; women's clothes that are defined as "fitting" almost always feel too tight to me. That's easy to deal with with shirts, which I can often buy a size big without looking like a slob, but it's less of an option with pants.

As for the measurements not being much better than sizes; true, there's plenty of variation in the waist/hip/buttocks region that isn't captured by the waist-inseam label, but at least I've never found a range between "I can't button these up" and "these will fall off of me without a belt" for the same waist label. And as someone who's tall but not quite tall enough to shop at Tall Girl and such, a labelled inseam saves me having to try pants that end an inch or three above my ankle. (A decade or so ago there was a trend, justifiably disliked by the women of average height that I knew, of jeans that were designed to fit over high heels. In hindsight, I wish I'd stocked up, because those pants fit me well in loafers.)

Still, I'm relying on Mark's staying in business for as long as I need clothes, because I've gotten used to being able to grab a pair off the rack and know that they'll fit and be comfortable. Maybe I'm just lucky in that Mark's happens to design pants that fit my (strange?) body type specifically, but their flyers prominently advertize that they sell pants that *actually fit human females* - something that doesn't even seem to be a consideration in other places' ads.

Phoebe said...

"Still, I'm relying on Mark's staying in business for as long as I need clothes"

That's Uniqlo for me (except for their newfound everything-must-be-leggings bandwagon). If they close, I'll be back to having no idea where to shop.

fourtinefork said...

I solve this problem by not wearing pants.*

Seriously. I think I gave up on trying to get pants that fit 3 or 4 years ago, and I realized, my life is better if I just wear dresses. (Moebius Stripper's list? Spot on; way too much effort.) I don't worry about inseams. Dresses are more forgiving for my shape, and more forgiving when that shape changes.

I have fancy dresses, casual dresses, hell, I've even moved and done physical labor while wearing dresses. Cooler in the summer. In the winter I wear leggings and tights underneath and knee-high boots, and I have a long coat, so I'm as warm as anyone.

The only time I wear pants is to yoga or pilates, and then only grumpily, as all my yoga pants are either too long, or too short, or too big, or too something. The price I pay in order not to flash the world in down dog.

* Full disclosure: I own one pair of black, wide-legged linen pants and 1 pair of blue linen pants. I didn't wear either pair last summer at all.

Phoebe said...


You're not the first woman I've heard express this sentiment re: pants. And it makes sense in principle, esp. for women with a more "curvy" build. And this is totally my approach to summer - the moment the jersey-material dresses can come out, out they come. But dresses end up being not as flattering on me (in my own perhaps-inaccurate opinion) as pants. And I guess I'm more comfortable in pants? I don't know. Maybe I'm one "Mad Men"-inspired frock away from conversion.